Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center brings a modern partnership ethos to learn about auto safety while also helping society.
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Chuck Gulash looks at the most troubling problems in driver safety and sees a world of potential. An engineer by trade, Gulash is the director of Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) and spearheads a research initiative that brings a modern partnership ethos to tackle driver safety in the most vulnerable populations: children, teenagers, and seniors. Car crashes represent a common cause of death for these three groups, and by understanding each group's particular challenges, the center hopes to make a lasting impact on automotive safety.
Opened in January 2011 with $50 million in funding, the CSRC is based on three pillars Toyota sees as "collaborative research, crash data analysis, and outreach.” Working with external partners such as research hospitals, government agencies, and research institutions, the center is a radical departure from traditional auto research centers where the data proprietary.
The idea for the CSRC was born from Toyota’s success with previous partnerships it had developed with outside institutions. For example, a few years ago, Toyota partnered with two universities, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, to delve into the effects of head trauma on the brain by studying football players. By attaching small devices to measure acceleration to helmets used by more than 400 players in over 250,000 hits, the team was able to collect data on head impact and its effects in real time.
The data collected provided essential information and insights into what happens to human brains in a collision scenario, and fostered advances in two different fields. Not only was Toyota able to improve computer systems that help simulate the injuries suffered in car crashes, but in turn, the universities were able to develop a safety ratings system for football helmets that today helps to protect student-athletes across the country.
“Collaborating with outside partners is at the very heart of how we work towards our goals,” Gulash says. By taking an integrative approach to traffic crashes (including vehicles, people, and infrastructure), the CSRC identifies gaps in its research portfolio and then reaches out to institutions with experience and strengths that can take research into a new direction.
The center currently has nineteen projects in its portfolio that tackle everything from studying cognitive driver distraction to developing crash algorithms that help prepare first responders to an auto crash by predicting the severity of injuries. With the growing population of older Americans, it is also exploring how age affects driving, including how posture and body shapes change as people age.
The collaborative ethos doesn’t end when technologies are developed. One of the most beneficial aspects about the CSRC is that most of the research and technology being developed will not be proprietary to Toyota. Instead, Gulash says that the center is committed to publishing its findings or sharing computer models as much as possible to help not just with driver and automobile safety, but to inform safety in non-automotive industries as well.
For the CSRC, success is defined precisely by sharing the research so that it can be adopted in the future to serve as a foundation for new developments and technologies. “This model allows us an unprecedented opportunity to share our time, talent and technology with the broader scientific community, and vice versa,” he says.
While CSRC is scheduled to run for five years, Gulash hopes that the initiative will be so successful that Toyota will continue to operate and fund the research center. Not only could the new technologies developed help Toyota’s own business, but also the car industry—and society—as a whole.
Gulash says, “A lot of people talk about ‘giving back’ to society. I think what Toyota is doing through the CSRC is ‘giving forward’ with advanced research that will benefit society well into the future.”